Bilingual parents: Hostility changes with the child beginning to talk the minority language

In “Hostility to bilingual education: 10 thoughts to stay on course”, I mentioned the fact that hostility changes with the child beginning to actively use the minority language. A recent first-hand experience makes me feel the urge to write specifically on it, to help reassure bilingual parents that are facing this situation.

As a bilingual parent, we are often confronted to situations of hostility as to the use of our minority language. The experience is always unpleasant and sometimes distressing. When you are the parent of a young child that does not yet speak, these nasty comments often feed your anguish of your child not becoming bilingual.

Relatives, owing to their privileged link to you, will sometimes be the bluntest and tell you that you are making a big mistake to rear bilingual. Some might even be blunter and hurtful.

However, rest assured that once your child will start speaking in the minority language in front of these people, things will most likely change for the best (so long as the issue was only the child’s well-being, and that there is no underlying discrimination issue). Until recently, I thought that there might be a few hostile people that would remain without convincing. Yet, last weekend, the most “desperate” case I have among my relatives gave me a message of hope.

Only 3 years ago, at an extended family lunch, my eldest came up to me and quietly asked me something in English, to which I replied in that language. Having a naturally loud voice, a relative sitting close-by overheard me and aggressively snapped “Can’t you speak French!?”. He was stunned when I snapped back that my daughter spoke to me in English, as he had never heard her address me in English and thought it was just me being ridiculous and confusing the poor girl. To ease the atmosphere, my sister kindly did a bit of “bilingualism proselytism”. The subject was left at that, but I had always felt this relative’s hostility at me not rearing in French. He is a “very French” individual, proud of being so and not very aware of what goes on abroad, let alone aware of bilingualism.

Fast forward to last weekend, and the Easter Sunday family lunch. That relative was there. He sat with an elderly couple of acquaintances who were invited. The elderly man suddenly noticed I was not speaking French with my youngest daughter, and inquired what language it was and how come I spoke it with my daughters. Before I even drew breath to answer, my “very French” relative answered for me. And I could not help but notice the tone of pride in his voice as he said “Yes, the girls are trilingual in English, Spanish, and French”. I almost fell off my chair in shock, as I had always considered this relative irremediably hostile to bilingual education!

Ensued a pleasant discussion about bilingualism with the elderly couple and that relative.

I have experienced other situations where friends suddenly went back on the initial hostility after hearing my daughter speak the minority languages. Notwithstanding, this recent experience has a rather sweet taste, as I consider the person rather ”bigoted”.

So if you are currently facing hostility, do hold on tight. In due course, hostile reactions could change for the better. Do not let them make you lose faith faith in your bilingual journey. It is just another bump on this difficult adventure. But stay on course, you are giving your child a most amazing gift.


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